Of course, it's impossible to know what's going to happen until it happens, but this year's team seems to have a different mentality than in previous years. I have a hard time seeing anyone blowing them out, honestly.
Yesterday, I listened to the Blue and Gold podcast wrapping up the FSU game, and they mentioned a couple of little things I thought were really good signs for the culture of the program.
First, they talked about when they arrived in the stadium and some FSU and ND DBs were on the field warming up. The FSU players were bundled up with long-sleeved everything, as one would expect. But the ND DBs, were practicing in shorts. Without shirts on. This was clearly an intimidation tactic, and I love how defensive backs, or all people, were willing to go so far just to try and gain a mental edge, even a menial one.
Second, it was mentioned that last year, receivers would typically "tap out" any time they would run a route of 20 yards or more, spending a play or two on the sidelines. They noted that they noticed a particular play where Chase Claypool didn't come up with a catch on a deep route, and the coaching staff seemed as though they had another receiver ready to come in. Claypool waved them off, and continued competing for the ball on the next play.
There were a lot of little things holding last year's team back. Those things don't really seem to be in the way anymore, which makes sense, since we're year two into a culture change for the program.
There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but perhaps the biggest reason is that there is still a lot of untapped potential on this team.
Freshmen like Tariq Bracy and Houston Griffith have had some bright spots already this year. Our linebacker depth is starting to come around with Genmark-Heath, White and Simon all getting some time at various points throughout the season. Some of our younger d-line players have stepped up already.
Not to mention that the offensive line dominated against what had been a really good rush defense and pass rush in the Seminoles. And they are nowhere near as good as they could be.
Now, take a minute and realized that this team will have a whole month or so to continue its development between the end of the regular season and the playoffs/bowl game. Yeah, everyone else has that same opportunity, but it seems like Alabama and Clemson are peaking and, as good as we've played throughout most of the year, ND still has a long way to go before this roster maxes out its potential.
Oh, and also, we beat the current #4 team in the country while in much worse shape, and it wasn't even really that close. I'd say we don't have a lot to be concerned about in terms of competing with the "big boys," whatever that means.